Council Focuses On Budget

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Mayor Calls for Close Look at Bay Oaks, Mound House and Mooring Field

The upcoming budget was the main topic of conversation on Monday morning at Town Council’s first workshop following the July break. Interim Town Manager Jim Steele outlined options for the budget based on both a .8 and .9 mil rate, and proposed ways to keep the budget balanced in the future. Council then discussed everything from the stormwater utility to Bay Oaks.

Steele began by explaining that the Audit Committee is currently working on policies regarding the Town’s budget – including things like ensuring only Council is authorized to transfer funds or do temporary loans, that an adequate funds balance is always maintained and that revenues and expenditures are reviewed on a regular basis.

 “There are four funds for which I’d like to see an established balance: a General Fund, which should be about 20% of the proposed budget; a Gas Tax fund – we want to set aside at least $500,000 as a reserve; Stormwater Management Utility – the requirement will be either the annual maintenance cost or the debt service coverage, whichever is higher, about $150,000; and the Water Utility, 6 months of operating balance – $1,564,000 which we will phase in over several years,” Steele said. “This includes a capital reserve of $350,000 which we will also build up to over 3 years.”

 Steele continued by explaining that – right now – the Stormwater Utility has a negative fund balance of a little over $2 million.

 “The fee was implemented in March and we started receiving revenues in April,” he said. “What we’re proposing is – for some of the work done in the past – we can reimburse ourselves from the gas tax fund – about $1.5 million. So with an annual revenue of $565,000, the cost of the facilities plan at $50,000 and maintenance of $108,000, by September 30 we’ll have a negative fund balance of about $130,000. By next year, the only thing the fee will cover is debt service. Next April, we’ll look at rate increase of about 20%, so next year’s balance will be $557,639.”

Mayor Dennis Boback asked how many refunds have been issued for fees, and Steele replied $2,841.

 Next, Steele presented a cash flow projection for the stormwater utility from 2014 to 2040, including all anticipating borrowings and changes in fees – adding that the estimates are conservative and that he thinks some of the costs can be covered by grants, thus lowering the need for increases in fees.

 “Once we cover the debt, we drop the utility fee to an average of $11.98,” he said. “And we are going to be looking for grants immediately.”

 Council member Anita Cereceda – attending the meeting via Skype from Spain – said she likes how the gas tax will pay for part of the some of the Town’s stormwater debt.

 “Are we going to be able to retire that existing stormwater debt sooner than anticipated?” she asked, and Steele replied yes – by next spring.

 During a discussion on the proposed budget options, Town Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli said that the difference between setting the mil rate at .8 or .9 is just over an additional $312,000 in revenue for the Town. The difference would be $10 per $100,000 of taxable value.

 “I would encourage us all to look at the bigger picture – the difference between keeping the mil rate the same and raising it to .9 is a drop in the bucket for the individual taxpayer but a huge amount to the Town,” said Cereceda. “Think about all the things we talk about on an ongoing basis that have to be paid for – the docks, Bay Oaks.”

 Council member Tracey Gore pointed out that the Town will see an additional $160,000 ‘no matter what’ due to the increase in property value.

 During a discussion on Animal Control, Boback wanted to know ‘exactly what they do for us’, and Maureen said that the liability of not having a contract far exceeds the $25,000 annual cost.

 Concerning salary increases, Maureen explained that the goal is to implement a ‘merit program’, which would be controlled by the Town Manager.

 “As far as Bay Oaks, we have plans for basic maintenance like resurfacing the tennis court, fixing the air conditioning, lighting and the floors – all of which will be brought before Council,” she said.

 Vice-Mayor Summer Stockton said that – when she was growing up – there were five full time staff people at Bay Oaks, with the rest part time, and ‘it was run perfectly’. A long discussion was then held about Bay Oaks and the pool, with Cereceda pointing out that what mattered to an 11-year old 20 years ago is different that what matters to 11-year olds now. Maureen said staff would be bringing back more information on that at the meeting on August 22.

 During a discussion on Time Square, Gore asked if the price businesses pay to rent space in the town’s right of way there is going to remain the same indefinitely.

 “$6 a square foot is so cheap,” she said, and Boback and Councilmember Rexann Hosafros agreed.

 “The key component was the road construction, and once its gone down the island we’ll look at the costs again,” Maureen said.

 Public Works Director Scott Baker explained that the Town will be buying another Kubota vehicle – using a 29% reimbursement from the Tourist Development Council (TDC), and ‘retiring’, or selling, four old ones.

 Hosafros once again asked that an additional code enforcement officer be hired.

 “I see stuff going on all the time that I know people don’t have a permit for,” she said. “We used to have more than one, and they can also be used for educational purposes – to explain to people what they’re doing wrong and why.”

 Boback, Cereceda and Gore agreed, and Program Developer Kara Stewart said she’d like to be more ‘pro-active’ – focusing on certain areas like short-term rentals.

 “(Code Enforcement Officer) Molly has been working on weekends and later during the day sometimes,” she said. “Her volume has been increasing lately, so if we are going to get more pro-active we need to hire another person. We are going to the magistrate monthly now, and we have our process going.”

 Cereceda said she doesn’t want to see Fort Myers Beach as a ‘vigilante community’ but rather use code enforcement to protect people who do follow the rules.

 Council asked staff to determine how much would be required to hire an additional code officer and return to them at their next meeting.

 Hosafros reported that the Mound House is ‘making way more money than any facility of that kind is expected’ and Cereceda said the Museum Store is going gangbusters.

 Boback said that the Town is spending $1.3 million for Bay Oaks, the Mound House Newton Park, the Beach Pool and the Town’s mooring field.

 “We’re spending half of our property taxes for those five items – let’s all consider that before we go to the meeting on August 22nd,” he said. “I don’t think – as small a town as we are – we should be spending 50%. Perhaps we need to have a referendum.”

 Hosafros and Cereceda vehemently disagreed, saying it’s nowhere near half the budget because Boback isn’t factoring in what those facilities bring in.

 At public comment held at the end of the meeting, Ed Scott said that code enforcement needs to have someone to drive around all the time looking for violations and offered to do the job himself for a $1 salary, saying the ‘businesses have taken over the island’.

  

Keri Hendry Weeg

 Edited 8/12/16 12:00pm